Since the 10th of September inspirational Birmingham-based Ikon Gallery is hosting the first solo show in the United Kingdom of the extraordinary works of one of the most influential modern Korean artists: Lee Bul. The show is a judicious survey of early drawings, studies, sculptural pieces and ambitious installations, including a new commission especially made for Ikon, showcasesing the visually compelling and intellectually sharp works which have established Lee Bul to her status of one of the most important artists of her generation. In conjunction with Ikon’s exhibition, Korean Cultural Centre UK in London presents a large-scale floor installation entitled Diluvium. Lee has created a new version of the work, which is specifically designed for the exhibition space of KCC. Overall the elements combined of the exhibited both in Birmingham and London simply blows our mind, with both explosion-like shows feeling like some sort of perfect contemporary Gesamtkunstwerke.
Born in 1964, under the military dictatorship of South Korea, Lee Bul graduated in sculpture from Hongik University during the late 1980s. Her works became preoccupied with politics in the broadest sense, delving into many variants of the all-too-human, and thus fallible, forms of idealism that permeate culture and civilization. From the beginning, she took an iconoclastic path, creating works that crossed genres and disciplines in provocative ways. Early street performance-based works saw Lee Bul wearing full-body soft sculptures which were simultaneously alluring and grotesque. Her later female Cyborg sculptures of the 1990s drew upon elements from art history, critical theory, science fiction, and the popular imagination to explore anxieties of dysfunctional technological advances, whilst simultaneously harking back to icons of classical sculpture.
Lee Bul’s more recent works have similarly dual concerns; at once forward-looking yet retrospective, seductive but suggestive of ruin. Sculptures suspended like chandeliers, elaborate assemblages that glimmer with crystal beads and chains and mirrors, poignantly evoke castles in the air. The sculptures reflect utopian architectural schemes of the early 20th century as well as architectural images of totalitarianism from Lee’s experiences of military Korea.
Perhaps the most explicit of these works is ‘Mon grand récit: Weep into stones…’ (2005), with its mountainous topography reminiscent of skyscrapers described by Hugh Ferriss in his book ‘The Metropolis of Tomorrow’ (1929). A nearby transmission tower broadcasts a flashing LED message from Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia (1658): “weep into stones / fables like snow / our few evil days.” Scaffolding supports several scale model structures: a looping highway made of bent plywood, a tiny Tatlin’s Monument, a modernist staircase that features in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and an upturned cross-section of the Hagia Sofia.
The shows are running until the 1st of November, for more information see here.